Saturday, March 27, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The New Jim Crow Era Begins in Georgia

For the better part of the last two decades part of the Republican agenda has been to limit voting rights rather than update their 1950's restoration effort that would "put blacks in their place" and drive LGBT citizens back into the closet. Yesterday, two bills were signed in Georgia and Arkansas that would suppress the black vote in Georgia and allow medical personnel in Arkansas to refuse to treat LGBT individuals. The brazenness of the actions were visually the most glaring in Georgia where the governor surrounded by white legislators signed the voter suppression law in front of a painting of an antebellum mansion.  Intended or not - and I suspect it was very much deliberate - the optics make it clear that faced with a changing country the Republicans want to take the nation backward in time to when whites ruled supreme.  In today's GOP, if one is not a white right wing Christian, you truly are viewed as less than human and undeserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The law comes in setting where there are already shocking disparities in the number of voting precincts in white neighborhoods compared to minority neighborhoods.  As I have noted often, one cannot be a truly decent, moral person and vote Republican.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the Georgia voter suppression law.  Here are excerpts:

The tableau of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing a new elections law said it all: six White legislators flanking the Republican governor, his pen poised above a gleaming wood table. Behind them, a painting of the white-columned Callaway Plantation.

Not shown: the enslaved people who once picked cotton and raised livestock on the 3,000-acre plantation.

Not shown, either: Black state legislator Park Cannon, arrested by White state troopers after she knocked repeatedly to gain entrance to the bill-signing. Among other things, the new law makes it a crime — yes, a crime — to provide water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

Welcome to 2021, where Republicans have embarked on a national effort to suppress the vote at all costs. And, not to avoid the obvious, to suppress Black votes, because those ballots would not be cast to Republican advantage.

“Un-American,” President Biden called it at his news conference Thursday, and he was right. “It’s sick. It’s sick.”

It’s also a product of GOP desperation to retain or regain power. Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the “terrible elections cycle” in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, “I’m like a dog with a bone,” she told fellow Republicans in January. “I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.”

Conservative lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Republican National Committee in an Arizona voting rights case before the Supreme Court earlier this month, was equally transparent — and transactional. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked why the RNC was involved in the case — in particular, why it had an interest in preventing people from having their votes counted if they were cast in the wrong precinct — Carvin didn’t bother to pretend this was about anything other than partisan politics.

A shot at winning. Politics as zero-sum game. Proof positive that this isn’t about the phantom menace of voter fraud. It’s about making it as hard as possible for voters who aren’t inclined in Republicans’ favor to have their ballots cast or counted. You can debate whether the impact on voters of color is an intended feature or a problematic bug, but it’s an undeniable reality.

The new Georgia law stands as Exhibit A in the 2021 campaign to curtail voting rights but will not be the year’s last. Its final form was not quite as repulsive as initial proposals. Provisions to end early voting on Sundays — which happen to be “souls to the polls” turnout days at Black churches — were dropped.

However, the final product makes it overall harder to vote, not easier. It increases voter identification requirements for casting absentee ballots. It limits the use of mobile polling places and drop boxes (they can’t be located outdoors or available outside regular business hours). It bars state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots to voters and likewise prevents voter mobilization groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters or returning their completed applications. It compresses the time period before runoff elections and, in doing so, eliminates guaranteed weekend early voting hours in such elections.

Most astonishingly, the new law criminalizes giving food or drink to those waiting in line to vote, on the apparent theory that this could somehow corruptly influence voters. Here’s an idea: Make it a crime to force people to wait in long lines to exercise their right to vote.

As a lawsuit filed by voting rights groups to challenge the Georgia law noted, polling places in majority-Black neighborhoods make up just one-third of Georgia polling places, but accounted for two-thirds of those that had to stay open late to accommodate long lines in the June primary. According to the suit, “the average wait time in Georgia after polls were scheduled to close was six minutes in neighborhoods that were at least 90% white, and 51 minutes in places that were at least 90% nonwhite.”

Which underscores the point: These restrictions operate to the particular detriment of Black voters, who tend to have less access to acceptable forms of identification, have jobs that make it harder to get to the polls during business hours and live in neighborhoods with fewer polling places and longer lines.

This small-minded new law is a dangerous cure in search of a nonexistent problem — unless the problem is that the more people get to cast their votes, the more Republicans lose.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Biden Excels at His First News Conference as the Media Embarrasses Itself

Some of the cause of Donald Trump's victory in 2016 can be laid at the feet of the mainstream media which has a fetish about appearing "balanced" when, in fact, all it does is too often peddle false equivalency and parrot blatant lies without labeling them as outright lies. Only after Trump began lying and claiming the 2020 election had been "stolen" did many in the mainstream media (which does not include Fox News, a/k/a Faux News) finally grow the balls to call Trump's statements out for the lies they were. The other media obsession is peddling and playing a game of "gotcha"  when covering politicians - or anyone else in most cases.  Some, such as Trump and many Republicans, deserve such tactics when blatantly lying (which is nearly all the time), but too often this obsession with generating controversy and sensation skews the news and causes relevant coverage to be under reported or to go completely unreported. Yesterday, during Joe Biden's first press conference - which the media had been whining for - Biden beat the media at its own game, stayed on message and refused to play the game of those who give many in the media a bad name.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the press conference.  Here are highlights:

After weeks of whining, the White House press corps got its first official Biden presidential news conference on Thursday. President Biden used the event to pledge that 200 million covid-19 vaccinations would be administered by the end of his first 100 days, double his original goal. (The administration will reach 100 million shots on Friday, Day 58.) He also announced that a survey showed nearly half of K-12 schools are open full-time for in-person learning. (He expressed confidence it would be more than half by the 100th day, consistent with his goal.) Certainly, that should be near the top of any news coverage.

Asked how “hard” he would work for his policy goals, he responded that “all my focus” so far has been on covid-19 and the economic recovery, but he promised he would get to other issues such as guns, immigration, climate change and voting rights. “I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we’re going to work together … [or] continue the politics of division,” he said.

On immigration, he made clear that crowded facilities at the southern border are not the result of a policy change from his administration or the fact that migrants see him as a “nice guy.” He pointed out that there was a higher surge under his predecessor last spring, which certainly was not because migrants believed the former president was a “nice” guy. “It happens every single solitary year,” Biden noted. In his lengthy responses to questions on the border, he showed his skill in de-escalating issues. One message came across loud and clear: “We’re building back up the capacity that should have been maintained and built upon that [Donald] Trump dismantled.

One reporter mentioned a 9-year-old she had seen at the border and asked if Biden’s messaging was contributing to the problem. No, he responded, again offering a detailed answer about the problems refugees face in their home countries that create the outflow. Prodded with a question about whether overcrowding was “acceptable,” he responded, “C’mon.” Of course it was unacceptable, he said, listing steps he is taking to find more beds for unaccompanied minors. The repeated questions on the same topic were tiresome and a poor use of precious time.

Try as they might to seem “tough,” the media did not succeed in knocking Biden off message. Biden spoke in great detail and length to show not only his mastery of the issues but also to suck tension and conflict out of the room. He simply would not be lured into accepting a false premise devised by Republicans (i.e., that his nice demeanor prompts parents to send kids thousands of miles under deadly conditions).

On the filibuster, he argued that “It’s being abused in a gigantic way.” He also suggested that the Senate return to the talking filibuster or reform it so it cannot be used to block legislation on “elemental” issues such as voting rights.

He slammed Republican attempts to pass restrictions on voting as “sick” and said they make "Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” He made clear that Republican voters he knows find such measures “despicable.” Is the filibuster a relic of the Jim Crow era, one reporter asked? He answered simply: “Yes.”

At another point, Biden said he “planned” to run for a second term, a somewhat meaningless response to a question about his intentions regarding reelection. In response to a mind-numbing question on whether he expected to run against his predecessor, Biden launched into an ode on helping working-class people, called out Republicans’ hypocrisy on debt and denounced GOP tax cuts as mostly benefiting the rich. He seemed delighted to point out that Republicans are out of sync with many of their own voters.

The media did not distinguish themselves. By asking about immigration multiple times and echoing the false narrative that Biden had created a “surge," they showed they were more interested in sound bites than actual news. Their failure to ask about the pandemic, the recession, anti-Asian violence, climate change or even infrastructure (Biden had to bring it up himself) was nothing short of irresponsible. They pleaded for a news conference and then showed themselves to be unserious. They never laid a glove on Biden; they did, however, make the case for why these events are an utter waste of the president’s time.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


The Biden Revolution Rolls On

As noted before on this blog, Joe Biden had not been my first pick as the Democrat nominee in 2020, yet so far in his administration he has shown himself to perhaps be uniquely positioned to overcome Trump in the 2020 election but to also work a transformation of the nation's mindset.  Or at least outside the Trump loving/QAnon embracing lunatics of the GOP base for whom objective facts and logic and reason are meaningless.  In his first press conference today Biden correctly noted that he is a bipartisan president in that he is winning support from Republican voters based on polls even if congressional Republicans remain total obstructionists. Moreover, he appeared focused on staying on plan for his massive infrastructure/jobs plan that will better the lives of millions of Americans.  A column in the New York Times by a former Republican apologist looks at how Biden may be able to transform the American mindset, particular when it comes to the role of government in improving lives.  Yes, he seeks tax increases on the wealthy, but as one who paid 53 times what Trump paid in taxes 2016,  I applaud this aspect of Biden's policies.  Here are column excerpts:

On March 12, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief act into law. Just 10 days later my Times colleague Jim Tankersley reported on a $3 trillion package of jobs, clean energy and infrastructure proposals. The Biden administration is throwing up epic spending plans at a bold, dazzling pace.

The Biden administration is transformational in two ways. First, it is fiscally transformational. Throughout U.S. history policymakers have tried to restrain public debt in peacetime for fear of unleashing inflation or saddling the country with crippling costs. We are now blowing through those restraints, either because they are not the right worry today or never were.

The second and more important transformation is over the role of government. Should government more actively direct investment? Should it redistribute far more money to the disadvantaged for the sake of common decency and to restore social cohesion?

These are the fundamental questions the Democrats have thrust on the table.

Throughout our history, America’s political-economic model has featured relatively low taxes — at least as compared with Europe’s — and low social insurance. In an important 2001 paper, the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote detailed exactly how distinct America’s system has always been.

In 1870, they wrote, government in America spent only 0.3 percent of gross domestic product on social benefit programs while France spent 1.1 percent. By 1998, America’s spending on such welfare-state programs as poverty relief and benefits for retirement, disability, unemployment, health care and family care had risen to 11 percent of G.D.P., but France’s had risen to 21.6 percent. Several European countries were typically spending twice as much as America to help the old, the young, the sick and the disadvantaged. Today, America spends 19 percent of G.D.P. on social benefits while France is at 31 percent.

Why have we adopted such a distinct system? Well, we’re a country that came into being through a revolution against centralized power. We have a high suspicion of the state. We’re also an immigrant nation.

Finally, we’re a diverse country. People support social spending for the poor when they see the poor as members of their racial or ethnic group. People are less likely to support social spending when they see the poor as predominantly members of some other group.

With all its splendors and injustices, our system has always had certain advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it generates a lot of industriousness and wealth. . . . . On the other hand, the U.S. has far more inequality. Life is far more insecure for those down the income scale. There is a lot of child poverty.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, more and more Americans have concluded that the American system needs fundamental realignment. Democrats have been moving left for a while, but if you look at the General Social Survey Data, the big changes have come over the past decade. . . . a new generation in the country, raised amid the financial crisis, wants to smash the “neoliberal consensus.” This intellectual shift in the Democratic Party — starting with the young, but now encompassing most of the establishment — is what is driving Biden to do so much so fast, and it will continue to drive him throughout his presidency.

He may not have sought transformation, but transformation found him.

Ten years ago, I would have been aghast at this leftward shift. But like everybody else, I’ve seen inequality widen, the social fabric decay, the racial wealth gap increase. Americans are rightly convinced that the country is broken and fear it is in decline. Like a lot of people, I’ve moved left on what I think of the role of government and income redistribution issues. We surely need to invest a lot more in infrastructure and children.

This is columnist heresy, but I’m going to take my time making up my mind on Biden’s $3 trillion spending package. But I do appreciate that this is a moment in which Americans are rethinking their fundamental values and the political-economic system that grew out of those values. This is necessary — and big.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


The Filibuster Is a Jim Crow Relic

The Biden/Harris administration has ambitious plans that enjoy the approval of a majority of Americans that range from the Covid-19 relief package just passed to infrastructure spending, to tax increases on the very wealthy and large corporations, to expanded voting rights protections.  They all face the prospect of Republican obstruction given the design defects of the U.S. Constitution which give undo power to rural, sparsely populated states which each have two senators and which have disproportionate weight in the Electoral College.  The third obstacle is the Senate filibuster which appears nowhere in the Constitution and which is merely a Senate rule fabricated in the 19th century and used in the 20th century to block civil rights legislation that would benefit southern blacks in particular.  Currently Republicans at the state level are seeking to restrict voting rights and in the Senate Republicans seek to block federal legislation that would prevent states from enacting new Jim Crow style laws to maintain white voting power. The only thing missing in the Senate are flat out admissions to the racist agenda driven by Mitch :Moscow Mitch" McConnell.  A piece in New York Magazine reminds us of the racist history of the filibuster.  Here are excerpts:

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is palpably desperate to preserve the Senate’s legislative filibuster. Last week, he warned that a majority-rule Senate would permit such horrors as the enactment of his own party’s platform. On Tuesday, he returned to the Senate to denounce what he called “a new, coordinated, and very obvious campaign to get liberals repeating the claim that the Senate rules are a relic of racism and bigotry.”

In response to this “coordinated and very obvious campaign” to associate the filibuster with racism, several Republicans are insisting just the opposite. National Review’s Dan McLaughlin and Senator Ben Sasse are echoing McConnell’s talking points.

[T]here is a huge difference between wanting to change the rules and refusing to follow the rules as constituted. Baseball managers may wish to abolish the designated-hitter rule, but pointing out that they continue to use a designated hitter rather than sending their pitchers to the plate hardly invalidates their argument. The objection to the filibuster is not that people who use it are immoral but that the rule itself is bad for the country.

McConnell’s allies likewise insist that the filibuster wasn’t created specifically for racist purposes but is merely one tool that was used to protect white supremacy.

This completely misunderstands the link between racism and the filibuster. The Founders rejected a supermajority requirement in either chamber of Congress, but the filibuster emerged by accident later in the 19th century. At first, it required unanimous consent; the threshold was later reduced to 67 votes and then to 60. But by custom, it was used rarely and almost always for the purpose of blocking civil-rights bills.

This is not merely coincidental. A routine supermajority requirement would have been completely intolerable. Only because it was reserved for bills protecting black people did the majority tolerate its periodic use. The filibuster exception to the general practice of majority rule was a product of an implicit understanding that the white North would grant the white South a veto on matters of white supremacy.

Opponents of even the most massive pieces of New Deal and Great Society legislation did not dare use the filibuster to thwart them. That was the norm. It survived because northern whites believed that social unity and national peace required special deference to the white South.

As Adam Jentleson, a former Senate aide and author of Kill Switch, points out, southern Democrats specifically defended the filibuster on the grounds that it would be reserved exclusively to block civil-rights laws: Don't take it from me. Here is [Senator Richard] Russell himself, the self-avowed white supremacist and leading defender of the filibuster, testifying in a 1949 Senate hearing that the filibuster debate was really about civil rights: "nobody mentions any other legislation in connection with it."

When Barack Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic,” that is the history he meant: a supermajority hurdle that was once permitted only because it would be wielded to suppress black Southerners had evolved into a tool against all kinds of legislation. To be sure, the Senate has carved out several exceptions; budget bills and court appointments can now be passed with a majority.

This means McConnell can accomplish most of what he wants with a majority — tax cuts, judges, and defunding social programs — while his opponents need a supermajority. It took 60 votes to create Obamacare, but the law would have been defunded with just 50.

McConnell and his party have very rational reasons to keep the legislative filibuster in place; those reasons are not racist. But the filibuster is a Jim Crow relic because, if it were not for racism, it would have disappeared generations ago.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Catholic Church Remains Opposed to All LGBT Protections

Personally, I remain dumbfounded by LGBT individuals who remain in the Catholic Church which, despite Pope Francis' occasional "gay friendly" comments, remains virulently anti-gay when there are accepting denominations that have nearly identical liturgies - e.g., the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ("ELCA") in particular (I left the Catholic Church in 2001 and ultimately found a home in the ELCA).  A piece in the National Catholic Reporter - not controlled by the Vatican - looks at just how extreme the Catholic Church's anti-LGBT jihad is in comparison to even the Mormon Church.  Not only do the Catholic bishops oppose any non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals in employment, housing, public accommodations and health care access, but they also lobbied against any federal funding for a suicide prevention hotline if it included resources for LGBT individuals. One can only conclude the bishops' view is better dead by suicide than gay. Add to this the still ongoing sex abuse scandal that has shown the moral bankruptcy of the Church hierarchy which has fought tooth and claw to avoid compensation victims, and exposed the hierarchy as a veritable moral cesspool.  Here are highlights from the NCR article (note that the bishops are no friends to women either):

When the U.S. Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act last fall to establish a toll-free number with assistance for those with mental health crises, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops quietly lobbied behind the scenes against the legislation. 

The bishops' justification? The legislation contained special funding for LGBTQ support.

A similar path has been taken by the U.S. bishops since March 2013 toward the Violence Against Women Act, bipartisan legislation that established a separate office and additional funding for the prosecution of violent crimes against women.

"All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' as contained in S. 47 is problematic," the bishops wrote in a statement signed by the heads of four committees and one subcommittee.

Relatedly, the bishops have long opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that dates back to 1974 and has been proposed by each Congress since 1994. The bill prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment due to sexual orientation, and the bishops argue that it fails to distinguish "between sexual inclination and sexual conduct" and does "not represent an authentic step forward in the pursuit of justice in the workplace."

Such reasoning is, in part, why the U.S. bishops have opposed the recently passed House legislation known as the Equality Act, which would expand federal civil rights protection against LGBTQ persons, while eliminating religious freedom protections.

In an effort to reject any legislation that acknowledges the category of LGBTQ persons, an approach the bishops' conference has followed for years, it has also refused to support compromise legislation to the Equality Act known as the Fairness for All Act, which has received the backing of frequent Catholic-allied faith communities, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Orthodox Union, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Some observers worry that the U.S. bishops' posture is based on a narrow view of the law and bad political strategy.

"Many Americans think that traditional believers seek a general 'license to discriminate' and that hostility to the LGBTQ community is the public face of Christianity," four leading First Amendment scholars wrote in an open letter.

Thomas Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas and one of the signers of that letter, told NCR that "a refusal to consider LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, even when balanced with significant religious liberty protections, makes it very difficult to dispel that attitude."

The proposed Fairness for All legislation, introduced in the U.S. Congress by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, aims to both outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in most areas of employment, housing, access to credit and social services, while preserving RFRA and allowing religious organizations and individuals that define marriage differently than the federal government to hire based on their sincerely held beliefs.

While the legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity-based protections to federal civil rights code, it would also protect faith-based organizations from losing their federal funding if they adhere to a different definition of marriage than the government and would prevent houses of worship from losing their tax-exempt status for doing the same.

Unlike many of their long-standing allies, the U.S. bishops reject this approach.

Despite such efforts to combine anti-discrimination provisions for LGBTQ people with provisions aimed at securing religious freedom, the general strategy of most Catholic bishops has been to simply double-down on opposition to the Equality Act, without any consideration of possible alternatives.

"If you say we can't support any anti-discrimination protection for sexual orientation or gender identity because such behavior or identity is wrong or flawed," he warned, "then it's very hard to explain to someone else why they should support religious freedom protections or traditional religion when they believe its behaviors or tenets are wrong."

One can only hope that Professor Berg is correct and that the bishops (along with evangelicals and Christofascists) are ultimately undermining public support for "traditional religion" and its hate and divisiveness.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Mass Shootings: The True American Carnage

Only in America of all the advanced industrial nations are mass shootings the norm.  History has shown that Americans are not safe in churches, movie theaters, outdoor concerts, office buildings, and now even neighborhood grocery stories (the store in Bolder is one of my nephew's neighborhood store).  All because of the antiquated and ridiculously construed Second Amendment which increasingly puts the lives of the many at risk to satisfy the obsessions and fetishes of the few and lines the coffers of gun manufacturers with blood money. Last year over 41,000 Americans died due to gun violence. Any other cause of such a large loss of life would be addressed and described as a crisis, yet in America the blood literally continues to flow simply so that the paranoid - who should never have firearms - and those who need a gun to confirm their fragile masculinity can strut about intimidating and endangering other citizens.  It's madness and a perfect example of the hollowness of the boasts of "American exceptionalism."  The rest of the world must see Americans as insane - and they'd be right. A piece in the Washington Post looks at who three of America's allies have responded to mass shootings and greatly reduced their death toll to guns. All took actions that could and should happen here.  A Washington Post several letters to the editor looks at the American blood bath and why assault weapons must be totally banned.  Here are highlights:

How many people have to die in mass shootings before there is the political will to pass reasonable gun control legislation such as a renewed assault weapons ban?

Initial reports suggest that the Boulder, Colo., gunman used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle. Similar weapons were used in the Aurora movie theater shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Orlando nightclub shooting, Las Vegas shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

Experience shows that an assault weapons ban would save lives. The number of mass shootings with six or more fatalities fell 37 percent during the 10-year period beginning in 1994 when an assault weapons ban was in effect as compared with the preceding 10-year period. After the ban expired in 2004, the number of mass shootings with six or more fatalities rose 183 percent over the ensuing 10-year period.

Thoughts and prayers won’t stop the bloodshed and tears. But a well-crafted assault weapons ban would reduce the number and lethality of mass shootings.

We think we are superior to our forebears because we don’t sacrifice human beings to pagan deities. But every few weeks someone slays eight people, 10 people or 50 people because our leaders tremble before a present-day idol: the National Rifle Association.

Other nations don’t have continual mass killings, only the United States.

When will politicians - mostly Republicans - cease prostituting themselves to the gun manufactures and the NRA?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Ron Johnson Is Now the Face of the Republican Party

Long ago I had reached a point where I concluded that despite protests and lip service to the contrary, the Republican Party had become a racist, sectarian party dominated by white supremacists and Christian Right extremists.  The sad result is that truly moral and decent people cannot be Republicans.  "Friends" who remain loyal to the GOP- and worse yet, Donald Trump - are lying to/deluding themselves and others if they refuse to admit that this is the true state of today's GOP.  Evangelicals and "conservative Christians" who continue to embrace Trump proved years ago that they are morally bankrupt and ultimately motivated first and foremost by hatred of others. Now, whites who remain in the GOP are racists either by virtue of their embrace of the party's racist rhetoric or their cowardice and refusal to challenge the open racism that defines the GOP.  The shocking statements of Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) that clarified that skin color is all that matters to today's Republicans is indeed the face of the party in 2021.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at this reality.  Here are column highlights:

A political movement will either police its extremes or be defined by them. Disapproval from opponents is easy to dismiss as mere partisanship. It is through self-criticism that a political party defines and patrols the boundaries of its ideological sanity.

This is the reason the case of Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) remains so instructive and disturbing. Johnson is a Republican who prefers his racism raw. He recently described the majority-White crowd protesting on Jan. 6 (some of whom stormed the Capitol and assaulted police officers) as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” Meanwhile, he would have been “concerned” by an approaching crowd of “tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters.” So: Whites who propagate a destructive lie, attack the democratic process and commit violence are Johnson’s kind of people; African Americans who protest a history of injustice are a scary horde.

There have always been bigots with access to a microphone. But in this case, Johnson did not face the hygienic repudiation of his party. Republican leaders preferred a different strategy: putting their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Republicans have abolished their ideological police.

The reason is simple. After four years of Donald Trump, Johnson’s sentiments are not out of the Republican mainstream. They are an application of the prevailing Republican ideology — that the “real” America is under assault by the dangerous other: Violent immigrants. Angry Blacks. Antifa terrorists. Suspicious Muslims. And don’t forget “the China virus.”

Trump did not create such views. But he normalized them in an unprecedented fashion. Under Trump’s cover, this has been revealed as the majority position of Republicans, or at least engaged, activist Republicans. A recent New York Times poll found 65 percent of people who identify with the GOP to still be Trump “die-hards,” Trump “boosters” or captive to conspiracy theories. And most of the rest find nothing disqualifying in Trump’s pathologically divisive performance as president.

[O]ur nation’s politics has a single, overriding challenge: One of the United States’ venerable, powerful political parties has been overtaken by people who make resentment against outsiders the central element of their appeal. Inciting fear is not an excess of their zeal; it is the substance of their cause.

This has left some of us politically disoriented. I am pro-life. For me, this has always been the natural application of a humane historical trend: The United States’ gradually expanding circle of legal inclusion and protection. You may disagree with me, but I believe there is a logical moral progression that leads from abolitionism to the civil rights movement to the protection of the disabled and unborn.

Yet it is precisely this progression that’s being denied in today’s GOP. Claiming that discrimination is an illusion, that White people are the true victims, that diversity is a threat and that the American way of life is really identical to the good old days of White dominance — these are not just mistaken policy views, like being wrong on entitlement reform or tax policy. They are the fundamental failure of empathy, the triumph of dangerous historical lies and the violation of the highest objectives of politics: the advance of equal justice and human dignity.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Politics does not directly determine the morality of citizens. But it helps shape the system of social cues and stigmas in which citizens operate. It matters whether leaders delegitimize hatred or fertilize it; if they isolate prejudice or mainstream it. If political figures base their appeal on the cultivation of resentment for some group or groups, they are releasing deadly toxins into our society without any idea who might be harmed or killed. Such elected leaders might not have blood on their hands directly, but they are creating a society with more bloody hands.

I could not advise an idealistic and ambitious young person to join today’s GOP because her ambition would be likely to destroy her idealism. Most Republican leaders can no longer be trusted with the moral education of the young on the central moral challenge of our history. Elected Republicans who are not bigots are generally cowards in the face of bigotry. And that is a shocking, horrible thing.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Is The Far Right In Retreat?

Here in America the 2020 defeat of Donald Trump is seen by some as a rejection of the far right authoritarianism that Trump loved and pandered to, especially as he acted as Vladimir Putin's village idiot.  Now, while the far right remains the biggest threat for domestic terrorism - the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, the majority of Americans seemingly want leaders who support democracy and who offer a calm and competent handling of the threats and problems facing the nation as opposed to the incompetent reality TV show offered by Trump.  As a column in Washington Post suggests, this development in America may be taking place in other parts of the world where the attractiveness of the far right may be fading, or so one can hope.  Here are column excerpts:

There’s a long-standing habit among Americans of reading our own politics as a signal for where the whole democratic world is moving. Sometimes it’s justified. Ronald Reagan’s election was clearly part of a broad movement toward the free-market right in the 1980s. Bill Clinton’s embrace of a centrist brand of progressivism in the 1990s was widely imitated.

So is a Joe Biden wave forming out there? Perhaps more importantly, has the drift toward right-wing authoritarianism that Donald Trump’s ascendancy seemed to herald been checked?

Of course it’s early, and many key national elections — in Germany and France, for example — lie in the future. But voting in the Netherlands last week and recent state elections in Germany and Australia point to a covid-era seriousness about government’s responsibilities, a search for democratic stability after a series of right-wing uprisings, and a redefining of progressive politics in a green direction.

[T]hese things don’t necessarily suggest a Biden wave, but they do point toward the same sensibility that led to his election. Activism with a moderate tone, competence and focus in ending the pandemic, alertness about climate change — these approaches are being embraced by the center-left, but also by parts of the moderate right.

Here’s the most striking fact about the Dutch vote, two state elections in Germany and an election in Western Australia: The incumbents did well in all of them. And while parties of the far right in the Netherlands and Germany held their own — advancing a bit in the Netherlands, moving backward in Germany — their surge has been checked. They are no longer, as they were in the Trump years, at the center of the news.

“Their priorities now are a stable government and reliable politicians,” University of Amsterdam political scientist Matthijs Rooduijn said in an interview, “and they see Rutte as someone who can lead the country out of the crisis.”

Coming in a surprisingly strong second was the ever-so-slightly left-of-center D66 party, partners in Rutte’s last government — and who expect to join him again and hope to move the next government in a more progressive direction, particularly on climate.

In Germany . . . . The Greens have been surging nationally and threaten to displace the Social Democrats, Germany’s traditional center-left party.

Until last Sunday’s vote, Merkel’s extraordinary durability made a government without the Christian Democrats seem inconceivable. Now, said Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ national candidate, voters can see the possibility of a majority without the Christian Democrats.

Finally, in Western Australia, incumbent Premier Mark McGowan converted exceptional personal popularity arising from his handling of the pandemic into an astonishing sweep. His center-left Labor Party won 53 of the 59 seats in the state parliament.

Perhaps the clearest signal of the shift in the political winds from an expressive nationalist politics to pragmatic reform is Rutte’s path to his fourth victory. A politician skilled at reading public sentiment, Rutte offered a tough line on immigration in the last election to push back against the far-right surge. He has not walked away from that position, but he moved toward the center this time with a program for more affordable child care, raising the minimum wage and expanding clean energy subsidies.

If nothing else, Biden’s defeat of Trump has shifted the momentum away from the global far right. And the pandemic and growing concerns about the climate have made electorates more practically minded and more focused on results. That’s progress.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Final Sunday Male Beauty


Japanese Court Strikes Down Nation's Gay Marriage Ban

Christian missionaries fanned out across the globe from Europe taking with them diseases and an abhorrence of homosexuality based on Bronze Age era Old Testament writings.  Japan, like most of the world outside of Europe - think the Americas, India, and the Far East and Africa - accepted homosexuality.  In fact, within the ranks of the samurai - much like Classical Greece - same sex relationships were widespread and samurai culture revolved around haji ( shame), meiyo (honor), iji (pride), and other core values.  A key distinguishing factor in samurai culture was nanshoku, homosexuality among adults.   The samurai turned the idea of nanshoku into wakashudo: prepubescent boys who became apprenticed to an older man. The boys would then learn martial arts and life skills, turning this concept into a form of “brotherhood contract” that was expected to be exclusive, with both partners swearing to take no other (male) lovers.  

Indeed, a shudō relationship was considered to have a "mutually ennobling effect." In addition, both parties were expected to be loyal unto death, and to assist the other both in feudal duties and in honor-driven obligations such as duels and vendettas. Although sex between the couple was expected to end when the boy came of age, the relationship would, ideally, develop into a lifelong bond of friendship. At the same time, sexual activity with women was not barred (for either party), and once the boy came of age, both were free to seek other wakashÅ« lovers. All of this came to an end with the arrival of Christian missionaries and over time in Japan same sex relationships became labeled as "unnatural."  Now, a new court ruling in Japan has thrown away the vestiges of the closed mindedness and bigotry brought by the Missionaries.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this important ruling.  Here are column highlights:

In 2019, the first lawsuits in Japan were filed in five district courts directly challenging the constitutional violation of not recognizing same-sex marriages. On Wednesday, the Sapporo District Court ruled that the current law, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional because it violates the principle of equality stipulated in Article 14 of the Japanese constitution.

This is the first ruling on same-sex marriage in Japan — and it is groundbreaking.

The decision is the culmination of years of work by many individuals. Our organization, Marriage for All Japan, was founded in January 2019 to achieve marriage equality.

In the past two years, about 70,000 people have signed our campaign calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage, 147 companies have expressed their support for marriage equality and 80 organizations throughout Japan have endorsed our activities. More members of the Diet have also supported our efforts.

We believe all of this work has been directly or indirectly reflected in the Sapporo ruling. We have received messages from quite a few people saying, “This ruling has given me the courage to live.” Following the ruling, the national newspapers have all covered same-sex marriage, and momentum is building.

There are three reasons the Sapporo ruling is particularly noteworthy.

The first is that it set very strict standards of review. The Sapporo ruling states that “sexual orientation is a personal characteristic that cannot be changed by the will of the individual, and in that sense it is similar to race or gender. Therefore, whether or not a distinction based on such a matter has a rational basis must be carefully examined to determine whether or not it is truly an unavoidable distinction.”

Second, the decision was made by going back to the purpose and essence of marriage. The government argued that “marriage is for heterosexual couples because the purpose of marriage is to bear and raise children.” The Sapporo ruling, on the other hand, states that “the protection of a couple’s common life itself, with or without children, is also an important purpose of marriage” — an important clarification.

Third, the Sapporo ruling affirmed that the majority’s understanding or acceptance was not a requirement. At the same time, the court made clear that the transformation of the traditional view of the family cannot be a reason for not recognizing same-sex marriages.

There is no doubt that the recognition of same-sex marriages will be a big step toward the fundamental elimination of discrimination and prejudice against the LGBTQ community. This discrimination is the responsibility of the majority who lets it happen — and it is the majority that needs to change.

It is encouraging to see so many decades of bigotry, ignorance and hatred finally overturned. Japan is returning to its history. 

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Republican Party’s War on Voting Rights

Donald Trump has constantly lied that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that voter fraud was rampant.  Never mind that Trump and his sycophants lost rough 60 lawsuits - a number at the U.S. Supreme Court - pushing this lie and that no evidence of significant fraud was found.  Nonetheless, state Republicans across the country in an effort to prostitute themselves to Trump and more importantly his supporters (particularly evangelicals, among the least educated of any religious group and, in my view the least intelligent and most gullible) have introduced 253 bills in 43 states to restrict voting rights.  While the targets of these bills being pushed by white Republicans are minority voters  -further mobilize  sometimes blatantly so - as a piece in The Atlantic lays out, many of these bills could actually disenfranchise Republican voters, particularly older voters more and more of whom prefer to vote by mail.  The other irony of the effort is that it could well galvanize minority voters and Democrats to increase efforts to guarantee minority turn out.  Here are article excerpts:

In February, Arizona state senators tried to have the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors thrown in jail.

The legislators had demanded that the county officials hand over documents relating to the 2020 presidential election in the state, which Democrat Joe Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, had already audited its results and found no evidence of fraud. The board argued that it was not legally allowed to hand over the ballots themselves.

Senators tried to hold the board in contempt, which would have allowed its five members to be arrested. The motion failed, by a single vote, and supporters promptly tried to retaliate against the swing voter, tanking a pet bill of his.

[A]lthough the senators who wanted to lock up the county board are Republicans, so are four of the five members of the board. And the rogue senator who blocked the effort? He’s a Republican too.

Republican legislators insist that they’re merely responding to the righteous indignation of their voters as they pursue a raft of new rules that would make voting more difficult.

In the intramural Maricopa melee, that indignation has pitted the people actually conducting elections, who see the legislature’s interventions as counterproductive and possibly illegal, against superfans of former President Donald Trump who are demanding action to deal with nonexistent fraud. Around the country, indignation has driven Republicans to propose new restrictions on voting rights. Some of these are likely unconstitutional. Some appear to target particular constituencies. But one of the most striking features of these proposals as a whole is their incoherence.

And although they seem unmoved by warnings that these laws will disproportionately affect minority voters, they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.

Some Republicans have been open about their goal of suppressing votes. “Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” State Representative John Kavanagh told CNN last week. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes as well.”

[T]his view fits a long-standing pattern. For decades, Democrats have sought to make voting easier and Republicans have sought to make it harder. Democrats argue that the right to vote is fundamental to American democracy, and that there should therefore be fewer barriers. Kavanagh’s Kinsley gaffe aside, Republicans mostly contend that such barriers are needed to prevent fraudulent voting, because any fraud taints democracy. The problem is that despite years of efforts to find it, there’s still no evidence of widespread voter fraud at levels that would tip elections.

This debate has been supercharged by the bogus claims of fraud that Trump lodged both before and after the election. As of February, the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice has tallied 253 bills in 43 states that seek to restrict voting.

The GOP drive for stricter voting laws, and in particular to make voting by mail more difficult, is rooted in three incorrect assumptions. The first, and most widely debunked, is that the 2020 election was tainted by significant fraud. The second is that the historically large turnout was responsible for Trump’s defeat. As the CNN data analyst Harry Enten recently wrote, “Trump lost because he was an unusually unpopular president, and he likely would have been defeated if turnout looked like it did in 2016.” The third is that mail voting swung the election toward Democrats. A Stanford University report released this month concludes that “no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic. Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout.”

But just as Trump’s claims of fraud were not backed by evidence, Republicans don’t seem to have carefully thought through all the ways their bills might affect state’s the entire electorate. Whereas past efforts at voter suppression around the country seemed to target Democratic demographics “with almost surgical precision” (as a federal judge wrote of North Carolina’s 2013 voter-ID law), some of the laws currently under consideration in Arizona and nationwide look like blunt instruments that could end up making it harder for Republicans to vote too.

“You look across the country, the western states have tended to be more progressive in expansion of voting opportunities, ways to register to vote, when and where you can vote,” says Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at Democracy Fund who worked in the Maricopa County Elections Department for more than a decade. “When I left there in 2014, almost 70 percent of Maricopa County voters were getting their ballot by mail. They were electing [mostly] Republicans. There was no question about the security of voting by mail, there was no question around the fraud risks of voting by mail, because the process was tried and true.”

Now that energy in Arizona has shifted away from expanding access, legislators are effectively targeting the methods of voting that got them elected. That could make voting more difficult for their own supporters.

“When you look at the history of mail voting, it has traditionally been used at much higher rates by older voters and more affluent and more white voters—constituencies that tend to lean more Republican in their voting patterns,” Wendy Weiser, a voting expert at the Brennan Center, says.

Snowbirds who spend part of the year outside Arizona could be hit especially hard if the permanent early-voting list goes away, because they’re not accustomed to having to request a ballot. And although the new requirements for ballot security would create barriers for the poor, they might also be a challenge for older voters. Garrett Archer, an election-data analyst at the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, calculated that a shorter deadline for ballot arrival would have invalidated more Republican than Democratic ballots in 2020.

Republicans have pushed voting restrictions despite the danger of backlash, Perez believes, because the imperative to show loyalty to Trump has overshadowed careful deliberation: “They’re responding to one god right now, and his name is former President Donald Trump.” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, defended the state’s system against attacks from Trump last fall.

Ducey has not indicated how he’d handle any bill the legislature might pass, and his spokesperson told me that the governor does not comment on pending bills. But Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican operative in Phoenix, said that many of the most overreaching bills were already stalled. And he said he expects that Ducey would veto anything that passes that the public might see as voter suppression.

“My instinct is that the Democrats will look at it as a turnout mechanism, and whoever’s running for governor will look at it as a branding mechanism for the person that they’re running against,” Coughlin said. As for the legislators, “I don’t even think they’re thinking that hard about it. They’re caught up in their righteous indignation right now.”

That’s the problem with letting righteous indignation guide legislation. It’s a powerful political tool, but it doesn’t always make for good policy.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


Can Progressive Christians Stop Christianity's Decline in America?

Some surveys have found that up to 40% of the under thirty generations have walked away from religion, especially Christianity.  Meanwhile, the "Nones" - those with no religious affiliation - is becoming the largest religious group, if you will, among Americans.  Increasingly, the face of Christianity - especially during the years of the Trump/Pence regimes years of misrule - has been defined by evangelicals and Christofascists who are best defined by their hypocrisy and who they hate which is virtually everyone but themselves. Worse yet, these modern day Pharisees have supported Republican policies that are the antithesis of Christ's social gospel message.  The result is that Christianity often is now viewed as synonymous with hate, exclusion and hypocrisy - as noted by one of Billy Graham's non-Christofascist granddaughters.  In this mix, progressive Christians who actually want to minister to the poor, sick and homeless have become too often invisible. As a column in the New York Times notes, with the Biden/Harris administration progressive Christians are once again gaining visibility. It remains to be seen if this will ease the culture wars - despite Republican efforts to fan the flames of hatred - and perhaps make the face of Christianity in America something that is not foul and ugly.  Here are column highlights:

Young and middle-aged Americans could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was a social conservative who denounced gay people and harangued the poor to lift themselves up by the bootstraps, until he was crucified for demanding corporate tax cuts.

That perception might arise because since the 1980s, the most visible Christians have been conservative evangelicals who often emphasize issues that Jesus never explicitly mentioned, such as abortion and homosexuality. But now more progressive Christians are moving onto center stage.

Enter Joe Biden, one of the most religious presidents of the last century, along with Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Biden attends Mass regularly and inhabits faith as Donald Trump merely brandished it (as if speaking to two Corinthians).

Likewise, Vice President Kamala Harris is a Baptist who says she has regularly attended church. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Catholic who says her faith inspires her to address health care and climate change. Elizabeth Warren taught Sunday school. Raphael Warnock, a new senator, is an ordained Baptist pastor.

Other Democrats, including Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, speak the language of faith fluently as well, so a critical mass has formed of progressive Christians inspired by religion not to cut taxes for the rich but rather to slash poverty for children.

At the same time, conservative Christians have taken self-inflicted hits, not least the way some invoked religion while invading the U.S. Capitol. . . . . And while human motivations are complicated, the suspect in the massage parlor murders in Georgia is a Southern Baptist whom a former roommate described as having a “religious mania.”

Some prominent Southern Baptist pastors jeeringly referred to Harris as a “Jezebel,” a biblical reference to a woman who is wicked, wanton and manipulative in her drive to power. That backfired and underscored how out of touch they were.

Another blow to the Christian right came when Beth Moore, a best-selling Christian author who may be the most prominent evangelical woman in America, said this month that she was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.

Yet the Trumpian wing of evangelicalism is doubling down.

The Rev. William Barber, a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, told me, “Some folks hijacked Christianity and decided that they were going to put up a lot of money to promote the idea that to be a person of faith was to be anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-gun, pro-tax cut.” Barber calls that “theological malpractice.”

Jerushah Duford, a granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, agrees: “We have seen homophobia, hostility toward women’s rights, xenophobia and lack of concern for the poor.” She compares the damage right-wing Christian extremists have done to Christianity to the harm Muslim extremists have brought to Islam.

The share of Americans identifying as Christian has shrunk in recent years, while the share calling themselves atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has grown.

The progressive wing of Christianity is not, of course, new. It began with Jesus. . . . “Woe to you that are rich,” Jesus says (Luke 6:24). He advises a rich ruler to “sell everything you have and give to the poor,” and then suggests “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:22-25).

In the 1960s and 1970s, when progressive Christianity was far more prominent, leftists cited such verses . . . . “My hope is that we move into a season where Jesus followers are no longer seen as synonymous with hate, exclusion and hypocrisy, but as beacons of love and grace,” Duford said, noting that her famous grandfather focused on a message about God’s love.

Most churchgoers are still conservative, and white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump. But if the public face of faith becomes less dominated by right-wing figures, it may become easier for the country to heal its fissures.

“‘Right’ and ‘left’ aren’t so helpful here,” said Father Greg Boyle, who runs highly regarded Catholic programs for gang members in Los Angeles. “The more reverent we become, we see things not as black and white, left or right — but complex.”